Chipped Off Gary Thomas found himself in an unlikely position recently. A friend, who works at a marketing company helping Procter & Gamble roll out a line of snack foods, asked the past president of the United Chambers of Commerce of the San Fernando Valley if the group might be willing to try some samples on the house at a luncheon meeting. Thomas agreed. The chips, it turned out, were made with Olestra, a fat substitute that has been at the center of a well-publicized controversy. And Thomas’ reaction to the chips ended up in a Los Angeles Times story about P & G;’s introduction. “So now I’ve become their spokesperson, which I’m not happy about,” said Thomas. If the members of the United Chambers are any indication, the public isn’t much bothered by the potential health risks of Olestra. Snacks made with the ingredient, said to simulate the taste of chips fried in fat, must carry a warning that says, “Olestra may cause abdominal cramping and loose stools.” But Thomas said the only label the group seemed concerned with was the one that listed the caloric content of the snacks. As for Thomas, he hopes his spokesman days are over. “It’s all so silly,” he said. Catalyst for Renewal? Talk about hype. Last week, L.A. City Councilwoman Laura Chick dedicated a traffic signal at the corner of Sherman Way and Remmet Avenue in Canoga Park. That’s right, a traffic signal, nothing more. Faced with the challenge of how to draw attention to such a ho-hum event, the councilwoman’s office issued a press release with the headline: “New Traffic Light Signals Revitalization of Canoga Park.” The release goes on to explain that the signal has been requested for years by merchants along Canoga Park’s “Antique Row” as a way to make the district more pedestrian-friendly and to slow down traffic so that passersby can get a longer look at the stores. “More than just a mere new traffic light, this dedication signals the beginning of the comprehensive revitalization strategy that the local business community has undertaken for Canoga Park,” Chick says in the release. When asked if the press release weren’t grossly overstating the significance of a traffic light, Chick staffer Eric Rose said, “Well, it got your attention, didn’t it? I know I took a bit of creative license, but if I had just written ‘Councilwoman Turns on New Traffic Signal,’ you folks would have round-filed it rather quickly.” We guess it worked. Need Help? Holler Sometimes a marketer just has to tap dance. Take Gershon Cooper, the president of ORA Electronics in Chatsworth. Cooper is marketing a new cellular phone gizmo called Rescue Mate that lets users dial 911 by hitting a single button on the phone. The button works, and so does the phone, but ultimately, reaching 911 depends just as much on whether a cellular carrier provides service in the area the caller dials from. The issue is a hot one since a widely reported incident in which a Beverly Hills woman was carjacked as her attempts to connect with a 911 operator failed. ORA President Gershon Cooper admits that the device only guarantees the means to dial into the emergency operator. The company takes no responsibility if the connection happens to be faulty or falls within one of the cellular carriers’ no service zones. So when it comes time for ORA to boast about its Rescue Mate features, the company is careful with its wording. “By pressing this button for at least two seconds, the attached cellular phone automatically dials 911, opening a hands-free line of communication between the caller and the public safety agency monitoring cellular 911 calls.” Now that’s a mouthful. Traffic Jam Last week, David S. Honda couldn’t attend a meeting. He was stuck on the freeway; really stuck on the freeway. The president of Northridge-based D.S. Honda Construction Inc. found himself helping two of his workers pick up drywall that had fallen onto the 405 from one of his trucks. The three-man crew, working near the Nordhoff off-ramp, had to be nimble. The California Highway Patrol never came to the scene, so traffic was darting around the truck as the men worked on the road. It took about an hour to clean up the mess. Wasn’t he afraid he’d be hit? “At that point in time, I was too upset to be scared,” Honda said. “It’s a contractor mentality.” Washed-Out Ads Take Metrolink and beat El Ni & #324;o! That was the message being delivered in radio spots airing last week on KNX-AM 1070. Then El Ni & #324;o struck. El Ni & #324;o-driven rains washed out railroad tracks in Newhall, Camarillo and Oxnard. And in southern Orange County, service was suspended at three stations because of the rains. Rail service on some routes wasn’t expected to resume until this week. Metrolink spokesman Peter Hidalgo said officials decided not to pull the radio spots last Monday because only one route was affected, but they did decide to pull the ads Tuesday in Los Angeles, Orange and Ventura counties. Problem was, the ads were on a “prerecorded rotation,” so it took a couple of days to stop running them, Hidalgo said. As a result, ads urging commuters to avoid El Ni & #324;o hassles by riding Metrolink were still airing Wednesday, even as several Metrolink routes were washed out. The ads were to be yanked as of Thursday, and then begin airing again today, March 2.